Surviving PMS Naturally

It’s no surprise that sometimes women feel at war with our bodies, especially as that time of the month rolls around when our bodies seem to betray us. While PMS can’t be cured, there’s actually a lot we can do to minimize the discomfort.

Body Basics

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a collection of physical and emotional symptoms that occur between 5 to 11 days before your menstrual period and usually go away within a week after your period ends. Symptoms commonly include:

  • Bloating or water retention
  • Food cravings
  • Breast tenderness and swelling
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Irritability, sadness, anger or mood swings
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Cramps, headaches or low back pain
  • Poor judgment and self-image
  • Fatigue

No one really knows the cause of PMS, but it affects up to 75% of women of child-bearing age. Those most at risk include women in their late 20s and early 30s who have had at least one child and have a history of depression or other mood disorder. PMS often worsens in the late 40s as women enter perimenopause.

An estimated 3% to 8% of women experience severe PMS symptoms classified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Likely caused by hormonal changes, women with PMDD may suffer from extreme irritability, insomnia, panic attacks, binge eating, as well as suicidal or delusional thoughts. This condition is worse in women who are alcoholics, overweight or sedentary, drink a lot of caffeine or have a family history of PMDD. PMDD is a different condition than PMS and must be treated by a doctor immediately.

What You Can Do

To determine whether PMS is the source of your discomfort, keep a calendar of symptoms and see if they cluster around the time of your period. Most women will experience some PMS symptoms, but certain lifestyle changes can make this time of month bearable.

Diet -�� Female hormones come from fat, so if youâ��re eating a high-fat diet, your food choices may be throwing off your hormonal balance. Reduce your intake of alcohol, salt, unhealthy fats, caffeine and sugar. Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which can help improve serotonin levels and boost mood.

Exercise -�� Regular physical activity can improve mood while reducing tension and physical pain.

Supplements - A number of vitamins, minerals and herbs may play a role in relieving PMS symptoms:

Calcium (1,000-1,200 mg/day from food and supplements) helps reduce food cravings, pain, bloating and improves mood.

Magnesium (400-500 mg/day) can help with migraine headaches, fluid retention and may also improve mood.

Vitamin D (1,000 IUs/day) has been associated with decreased severity of PMS symptoms in studies. You can get vitamin D from supplements, certain foods or 15 minutes of midday sun exposure without sunscreen.

Vitamin B6 (50-100 mg/day) affects dopamine production in the brain, which may improve hormone metabolism and boost mood.

St. John’s wort (300 mg three times a day) has been well-studied in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. There’s early evidence it may help with PMS symptoms.

Chasteberry is an herb that may reduce physical symptoms of PMS by as much as 50% and has been evaluated in several studies.

Over-the-Counter Medication – Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen are effective in reducing headaches, muscle pain and cramps. Diuretics can assist with bloating, fluid retention and breast tenderness.

Other therapies that may prove useful include cognitive-behavioral therapy, acupuncture, meditation and relaxation techniques. If these lifestyle changes don’t provide adequate relief, talk to your doctor about other treatments that might be right for you.

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Dr. Carolyn Ross is an internationally known physician, author and speaker on addictions, obesity and eating disorders. She serves as a consultant to The Ranchâ��s eating disorder treatment program in Tennessee, maintains a private practice in Denver, is the author of The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating as well as The Joy of Eating Well and also hosts a weekly radio show, The Vital Life. 

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